Why Confederates Should Go

In How We Behave, Violence and Hate On

Nashville — I grew up on Missionary Ridge, a Civil War battlefield overlooking Chattanooga, Tenn. In my childhood we could still find minie balls from the battle in which a young Union soldier, Arthur MacArthur, the father of Douglas, received the Medal of Honor. The war’s relics were real and tangible — I still have a few on my desk as I write — and so were the war’s perennial and tragic consequences.

I remember the smoke rising from downtown riots in 1980 after an all-white jury acquitted two Ku Klux Klansmen in the drive-by shotgun shootings of four black women. (A third Klan defendant was convicted only of reduced charges.) It was a stunning verdict. “Good God,” my grandfather, a retired judge, remarked of the jurors. “They didn’t let the facts get in the way.”

Facts, as John Adams said, are stubborn things — and, for Southerners, they are also often uncomfortable. If we don’t face them forthrightly, we risk living in worlds of fantasy and fable, subject not to reason, the greatest of gifts, but susceptible to passion, the most dangerous of forces. In such alternative realities, the Civil War was not about slavery but about what neo-Confederates refer to as “heritage.”

So let’s talk facts. From Baltimore to New Orleans, cities across the South are removing statues of Confederate figures from public property — memorials often built as emblems of defiance to federal authority in the post-Reconstruction period and in the Warren Court years of the 1950s and ’60s. The white-supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., this month was occasioned by the city’s decision to take down a Robert E. Lee statue.

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